Mister President, distinguished members, and colleagues of this august chamber:
I rise today on a matter of personal and collective privilege. Recent revelations have come to light regarding allegations that a past administration broke a promise made in 1999 to remove the stranded BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.
These allegations put forth by Mr. Rigoberto Tiglao have raised concerns about the integrity of our nation’s sovereign rights and our commitment to safeguarding our territorial integrity. Such claims that a former President had promised to remove a vessel that symbolizes our presence and assertion of our rights in the West Philippine Sea is a matter that deserves thorough scrutiny and rigorous analysis.
This plot twist in the continuing saga on our country’s territorial claims over at West Philippine Sea came two weeks after we adopted Resolution No. 79 strongly condemning China’s continuing harassment and its persistent incursions in the West Philippine Sea.
But before I address Mr. Tiglao’s allegations against my father, former President Joseph Estrada, I believe it is a good opportunity to discuss how our country is asserting its sovereignty and claim its territory.
The quest to claim portions of Spratlys as part of Philippine territory can be traced back to the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s time in office. He recognized the islands’ strategic and economic significance considering that some of these islands have lucrative potential oil and gas deposits.
During the 1970s to 1980s, the Marcos government gained control of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) when we took over Lawak, Pag-asa, Parola, Likas and Kota. And later on Panatag, Panata and Rizal. Those “audacious undertaking” were continued by the Estrada administration.
The “grounding tactic,” which has significant symbolic and strategic value for the Philippines’ territorial claims and sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, was carried out under my father’s leadership.
The Estrada maneuvering and the fall of Camp Abubakar, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s second-largest camp – the culmination of the Estrada administration’s all-out war against the MILF – are proof of my father’s strong resolve to assure internal and external security.
Now, under President Bongbong Marcos Jr., is continuing what his father started, fortifying our stand in defending and protecting the territorial integrity of the Republic.
Kaya naman ang sinasabing pangako na tanggalin ang BRP Sierra Madre sa Ayungin ay isang kasinungalingan. Pinaghirapang planuhin nila dating Defense Secretary Orly Mercado at ng Armed Forces of the Philippines ang mga strategy para labanan ang sinasabi nilang “creeping invasion” ng Tsina. Basta na lamang ba natin bibitawan ang pag okupa ng BRP Sierra Madre sa Ayungin? As I have said, it defies logic, Mr. President.
At ngayon ay binabaligtad pa tayo at pinapalabas ng Tsina, base sa mga binitawang salita ni Chinese Embassy deputy chief of mission Zhou Zhiyong may basehan ang ginawa nilang agresibong aksyon na pag water cannon sa Philippine Coast Guard na naghahatid lamang ng rasyong pagkain sa mga kababayan nating nakatalaga sa BRP Sierra Madre.
Sa akusasyong nagdadala ang PCG ng construction materials, may masama po ba dito? Bakit tayo pagbabawalang makatapak o gumawa ng mga aksyon sa sarili nating teritoryo?
In fact, in our submissions to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), we reported sightings of Chinese government vessels as well as unidentified aircraft in the vicinity of the Ayungin Shoal as evidence of their aggressive actions within our territory.
The Arbitral Tribunal in its 2016 ruling declared the Mischief Reef, which is in the Spratly Islands, and the Ayungin Shoal are within the EEZ and continental shelf of the Philippines.
The PCA, in its ruling, said China has failed to exhibit due regard for the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone.
The decrepit, 80-year-old landing ship tank (LST), a commissioned ship of the Navy, no matter how rotten-looking and unseaworthy, is an extension of the territory of our country.
BRP Sierra Madre serves as a symbol of our determination to defend the Philippines’ sovereign rights against challenges from other claimants and a reminder of the sacrifices made by the Philippine Navy and military personnel stationed in Ayungin to protect the country’s interests.
Maaari nating sabihing ang BRP Sierra Madre ay isang pambansang sagisag ng matapang na pantindig at hindi pagyuko ng Pilipinas sa kabila ng pananakot at pang-aapi. Sa kabila ng kalumaan, kawalan ng maayos na suporta, at pagdaan ng maraming delubyo, nananatili itong nakatayo at matatag.
For 24 years now, we have not heard of any effort to undertake other measures in continuing and fortifying our country’s stronghold in the West Philippine Sea. We have been kept by our neighbor China in various forms of bullying, harassment while they continue to build structures in these disputed areas.
Mr. President, let me just ponder more on the assertions of Mr. Tiglao in his several published articles.
Mr. Tiglao based his claims on the 2022 book of Gregory Poling, an analyst specializing in Southeast Asian political and security issues, offered no other information.
How can we consider a passage in a book that claims former President Estrada vowed to remove BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal at the request of the Chinese government, as unquestionable truth?
It was made verbally, allegedly, to who? Can you name names, Mr. Tiglao?
Even the confidential memorandum of former Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario addressed to the late Pres. Benigno Aquino III, which Mr. Tiglao mentioned in his piece, was ambiguous as it merely stated that the “Chinese side claimed that Philippine authorities promised China that they would immediately remove the stranded vessel.”
I am quite certain that my father made no such agreement even verbally to anyone, to any Chinese official during his incumbency.
And I can back up my claims as I have earlier said that former Sen. Orly Mercado along with Navy officials, came up with the idea of running aground some of the World War II-era LST or landing ship, tank Sierra Madre to stake Philippine claim and establish a presence in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) during a command conference of the Armed Forces.
Unlike Mr. Tiglao, I could easily and did verify this information from Sen. Mercado himself and he attested that there was no such promise made to China.
And if indeed there was such an arrangement, how come there was relative “peace” in the West Philippine Sea during the Arroyo administration that spanned nine years? The Arroyo administration was conspicuously “silent” in asserting our sovereign rights over issues concerning the West Philippine Sea.
They could have kept up the momentum gained by the Estrada administration in pursuing a comprehensive strategy or plan of action to reinforce our country’s territorial claims.
One thing certain was that under the presidency of Mrs. Arroyo, several bilateral talks were held in Shanghai that resulted in the signing of agreements related to tourism and the opening of the country to Chinese investments.
As we deliberate on this matter, let us reaffirm the principles that guide our actions as custodians of our nation’s interests.
Ayungin Shoal is not just a piece of land; it symbolizes our assertions of sovereignty and our dedication to upholding international law, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, the BRP Sierra Madre’s presence at the shoal stands as a testament to our unwavering commitment to defending our rightful claims and securing our territorial integrity.
As a sovereign nation, we hold dear the principles that our forefathers and heroes fought hard to secure. Any suggestion that goes against this commitment, regardless of whether it happened in the past or present, challenges those principles. We cannot allow mere allegations without substantial evidence to cast aside the efforts and sacrifices made to ensure our current freedoms.
Especially not from someone who had been called out not once, but twice by media organizations by making up stuff, with absolutely no evidence to support his attacks.
Mr. Tiglao was previously accused by Rappler in 2017 of spreading fake news when he alleged that the online news outlet’s supposed funder played a role in the ousting of the Ukrainian president in 2014.
In 2022, he repeated his actions by accusing Vera Files, an independent media organization, of being funded by US bankrollers and supporting then Vice President Leni Robredo’s presidential campaign.
Hindi ko lubos maisip kung bakit kailangang magpakalat ng ganitong kasinungalingan kung kailan paulit-ulit ang pambu-bully sa atin ng bansang itinuturing nating kaibigan. Maliban na lamang kung isa syang Makapili, traydor ng bayan.
Ang katagang binitawan ng batikang aktor na si John Arcilla sa kanyang pagganap sa pelikula bilang si Heneral Luna ay tila nababagay kay Mr. Tiglao: ang sabi nya “May mas malaki tayong kalaban…ang ating sarili.”
Ginoong Pangulo, sa panahong sinusubok ang ating katatagan at pagkakaisa, gamitin nating inspirasyon ang BRP Sierra Madre na patuloy na naglalayag para ipaglaban ang ating kasarinlan.
While we may have differing opinions, one thing is undeniable: on July 16, 2016, we successfully fought for our rights and emerged victorious.
Thank you, Mr. President.